ANNAPOLIS, Md. — With temperatures expected to be well above freezing for Saturday night’s Stadium Series game between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the obvious question must be answered first. How can you play ice hockey in 40-plus degree weather?
The system that allows for such a game is a complex, meticulously maintained one. But it’s one that Mike Craig, National Hockey League senior manager of facility operations, knows well. He and his team have executed more than 20 outdoor events, in all different climates and weather. So even with the warmer temperatures, and even with the rain falling in Annapolis Thursday, he’s not worried.
“The temperature we’ve had has been pretty consistent all week; we’ve kind of found our little sweet spot, as we call it, with our refrigeration trucks and our temperatures that we like to run,” he explained Thursday.
The more pressing concern is the wind.
Scheduled practices Friday for both teams were moved back indoors.
“As far as the actual ice impact, we’re not exactly sure how that’s going to impact us,” he said, though the current high wind warning is set to end early Saturday morning.
The ice for outdoor games is laid over a fabric base, rather than a painted, solid one. It’s also 2.5 inches thick, which, perhaps surprisingly, is twice as much as standard indoor ice, using 20,000 gallons of water and 3,000 gallons of coolant to create. So even with the weather and humidity changes, the falling rain pebbling the ice isn’t a huge deal, as it will just become part of the ice surface and be smoothed out later.
But perhaps that pebbling is fitting, considering the special guests who will be on hand for the game. There will be two Winter Olympic gold medal squads celebrated on the ice Saturday — the women’s hockey team and the men’s curling team. But before the puck drops at 8 p.m., there’s plenty else going on in Annapolis.
Even if you don’t have tickets to the game itself, you can still partake in the festivities Saturday. The PreGame is a free fan festival that runs from 2 to 7 p.m. in the Blue Parking Lot. There will be various fan activations, food and music, as well as the chance to meet the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team members, who will be signing autographs from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Pregame ceremonies will be heavily military-themed for the first ever NHL game at a service academy. There will be more than 500 midshipmen in attendance, as well as a flyover from two F/A-18F Super Hornets from Virginia Beach’s “World Famous Fighting Black Lions.”
The men’s curling team will be honored pregame, the women’s hockey team during the second intermission.
Amid all the pomp and circumstance, there is an important hockey game. The Capitals (79 points) hold a tenuous, one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, while the Maple Leafs sit third in the Atlantic Division despite 85 points.
This will be the third outdoor game for each club, with both winning its previous two contests. Washington’s last outdoor game was the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park, a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
All eyes will be on Alex Ovechkin. After breaking the franchise mark for games played last week, he sits just three goals shy of becoming the 20th NHL player ever to reach 600. He would need a hat trick to hit the mark on Saturday.
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